By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots travel to the Georgia Dome to take on the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday Night Football broadcast by NBC. Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth will be doing the play-by-play. The Patriots beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23-3 on Sunday to go to 3-0 on the season as the offense showed signs of coming together.
The Falcons enter at a surprising 1-2, dropping a last minute game last week to the Miami Dolphins. Atlanta went to the NFC Championship Game last season and has Super Bowl aspirations so this wasn’t the start they wanted to get the season off to. But like New England, the Falcons have been decimated with injuries.
We here at PatsFans.com are going to try something a little bit different this season. We’re going to run a column, the “Razor’s Edge” to give a quick break down on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.
Series History: The teams have met 12 times with each team winning six. The Patriots have won the last three meetings with the latest being back in 2009 and a Patriots 26-10 victory in Foxboro. Atlanta holds a 4-3 advantage at home.
The Patriots have started slowly this season on offense, especially in the red-zone where they are currently scoring touchdowns at a rate of 30.8 percent, last in the league. In 2012 they led the league in that category so things will have to improve greatly in that area as the season moves forward. Injuries are part of the reason the team has struggled there.
But with Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski about to return shortly that should go a long way to alleviating those issues. But last week, the offense showed some positive signs of moving forward in the passing game and coupled with a good performance by the running game, things are looking better.
Patriots RBs vs Falcons Front Seven- Edge Falcons
The Falcons have a good front four and it starts in the middle with Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Osi Umenyiora. They’ve done a good job of stopping the run even with their best run stuffer, LB Sean Weatherspoon on the shelf with a foot injury (IR Designated Return).
The Patriots used the committee approach last week and it will probably do so again. Stevan Ridley wasn’t particularly effective but was picked up by good performances by Brandon Bolden (100 yards combined rushing, receiving) and LaGarrette Blount. However, the Patriots rushed for 156 yards against a good Bucs defense. This week they’ll need to open up the running game by throwing effectively.
Patriots WRs vs Falcons Secondary- Edge Patriots
The Patriots rookies Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins made some nice strides in the game against the Buccaneers last Sunday and combined for 10 catches and 2 TDs. If not for some uncharacteristic play by QB Tom Brady, the opportunity for even more was there for the taking.
Atlanta has a good pass rush led by Umenyiora who had 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles against the Dolphins. But if Brady gets time to throw, this secondary can be taken advantage of. On the season, the Falcons secondary has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 82-of-125 passing attempts, which is a 66% completion rate for 945 yards, 7 TDs and 3 INTs, and a 96.9 QB rating.
Look for Brady to attempt to work some crossing routes underneath and target the middle of the field especially against nickel corner Robert McLain. If Gronkowski is able to play, even for a few plays it help open up a lot of the field. However, the crowd noise will hinder Brady’s ability to audible.
The Patriots defense has been very good this season, allowing an average of only 11.3 points per game. Thus far they’ve forced 15 three and outs for opponent’s offenses which is also very good.
However, the Falcons are by far the best offense they’ve faced this season, and even with their injuries they present a formidable opponent. They have play-makers sprinkled through their offense and will be a big test for the Pats defense.
Falcons RB vs NE Front Seven- Edge Patriots
The Patriots have done a good job of taking away the running game of opponents thus far this season, with all three foes attempting to establish the run to open up the passing game. This week, they face the Falcons who like to throw much more.
However, with Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly upfront and Brandon Spikes at MLB, the Pats should be a very tough unit for the Falcons to run on and remain balanced.
With the very talented Steven Jackson injured and not expected for this one, Atlanta will use Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling who each had a solid day against Miami. But like the Patriots, expect the Falcons to have to throw effectively to open up the running game on Sunday.
Falcons WRs vs NE Secondary-Edge Falcons
The Falcons have a very talented core of players to catch the football from Matt Ryan and will be a tough matchup for the New England defense. Julio Jones has caught 27 passes and 208 of his 373 yards have come after the catch. Roddy White is hobbled with a high ankle sprain but has played every week and is a dangerous #2 option. Tony Gonzalez is one of the best tight ends to ever play the game and can be a force inside and down the seams.
The Patriots defense has been very solid against the pass thus far in 2013 allowing quarterbacks to complete 52-of-103 attempts (50% completion percentage) for 601 yards, 2 TDs and 4 INTs for a 58.8 QB rating.
Even more impressive has been their work on 3rd and 4th down which has seen them complete 17-of-40 (42.5 percent) for 181 yards, 0 TDs and 2 INTs and 2 Sacks for a 35.5 QB rating.
Aqib Talib will see a lot of Jones all game long but in the end this one will be in the hands of the pass rushers, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Tommy Kelly to get pressure on Ryan. If he gets time to throw, it will be a long night, so they’ll have to get pressure and disrupt his timing.
Jones is going against LT Sam Baker who is also injured. This is a matchup that Jones must win and should win.
Special Teams- Edge Push
The Patriots’ special team units have played much better since the season started and Stephen Gostkowski in particular had an outstanding game on Sunday. He was 3-3 of FGs (53,46,33) and every one of his kickoffs went out of the end zone.
Rookie punter Ryan Allen has been much improved and Julian Edelman has had a very good start to 2013 in the punt return game. The Kickoff returns with LaGarrette Blount are still underwhelming thus far but perhaps Leon Washington returns this week from his thigh injury.
The Falcons have the solid Matt Bryant at kicker and the returns are shared by Harry Douglas returning kickoffs and Rodgers handling punts. The coverage unit with punter Matt Bosher has been outstanding allowing 1.6 yards per punt return.
Player to Watch- Julian Edelman
Edelman has been Brady’s biggest target thus far in 2013 gathering in 27 catches and this week operating out of the slot, he’ll be a big part of the offense.
Edelman will be going against nickel corner Robert McClain and he’s arguably the weakest link in the Falcons secondary. With the Falcons having a good pass rush, Brady and Edelman will have to have their timing and signals down especially when he becomes the safety valve.
Look for Edelman to run some crossing routes underneath to get some separation from McClain and he should be receiving lots of attention from Brady on Sunday night.